Biarritz last night fanned the flames of Heineken Cup combat to the extent of risking a disciplinary charge from the ERC, WRITES PETER BILLS.
The French club's coach Jean-Michel Gonzalez had already upped the ante by declaring ahead of tomorrow's clash with Ulster at Ravenhill: "We are ready for combat."
But hooker Benoit August appeared to go even further. The former French international (34) made comments with regard to referees in general, of which the notoriously touchy ERC may take a dim view.
Welshman Nigel Owens will handle tomorrow's crucial Pool 4 game at Ravenhill. But August said: "It is always complicated to play there with the wind, the rain and a referee who always has an Irish cousin."
August's comments may well have been intended as tongue in cheek. But the ERC don't do humour. They threw the book at former Saracens rugby director Brendan Venter for speaking out about his concerns regarding refereeing in this season's tournament, Venter copping an initial €25,000 fine.
August could find himself in similarly deep water or at the very least be asked to explain his remarks.
There is no doubt Biarritz are travelling to Belfast with a siege mentality. They have already had one blow, losing international flanker Wenceslas Lauret through injury. But there is better news from the front-row, where South African prop Eduard Coetzee is set for a return after an injury lay-off.
Gonzalez emphasised that Ulster's Heineken Cup record in recent years, since their 1999 triumph, has not been exceptional.
"They have not been as strong, but lately they have become a very complete team," he said.
"The players must be ready for combat. What will count will be our capacity to make a real challenge in the game and to have rhythm and pace for the full 80 minutes."